When I’m getting started on a new piece or a new passage, I frequently let my imagination wander unedited, just putting down ideas with as few preconceptions as possible. Then I look at what I’ve done with an analytical ear, trying to find patterns I can develop into larger musical gestures.
That second stage of analysis and development is crucial, but it’s also dangerously addictive. Too many times I’ve found patterns that generate attractive music and fallen prey to the seduction of system. I’m never happy with the results. Systems have the power to make me forget that I never want to be smarter than my music. I always want to find new relationships and connections I hadn’t imagined were there, as opposed to laying down processes that get me predictable results.
But what fun it can be to plug in a process you know will get interesting results and sit back while it does the work for you!
Reminds me of Vonnegut’s youthful novel Player Piano, in which a machine-run dystopia has made human life meaningless. Much of the plot revolves around the organization of a rebellion, culminating in the destruction of all machines. At the conclusion, though, a crowd gathers around a mechanic who is attempting to fix a smashed soda dispenser. When a coin finally gets an aluminum can to plunk down, the crowd cheers, and the cycle of mechanization begins again.